Oh glorious summer break from high
Creole had purchased a spit of land
toward the mouth of the lake beyond Palmarejo and was beginning
to build a beach club there for its employees. Many of the
fathers were spending their weekends there working on the
main pavilion, etc. Dan Allen Sweeney's dad, Dan, was contributing
his time as well.
I think it was Dan
Allen who suggested that we go the beach for a week as I
recall and so, Dan and his brother Sherman, Randy and Mike
Lanciault and I were dropped off at the compound. We brought
a canvas tarp, machetes, sleeping bags, a cooler of ice
with eggs bacon and butter and, a fry pan, straw hats, a
Coleman lantern and bathing suits and a strong belief that
we could overcome any obstacle.
built a lean-to out of scrap lumber and
threw the tarp over it for shelter from
the elements and we built a small cook fire
just outside the entrance. We were ready
pontoon platform had been anchored to the
lake bottom about 100 feet off shore from
the beach and we would swim out to it and
lay there toasting in the sun (that contributed
to why I now have premature liver spots
on the backs of my hands).
When the tide was going out the
water current off the beach was very swift and the platform
took on a significant slant against the current and became
something like a ski ramp. That made it even more fun.
There was a little cantina not far
from the beach and we would head over there for cervesas.
A local fisherman had caught a huge sting ray which lay
out in the sun and I cut off its tail which was about three
feet long and dried it in the sun and it became a wicked
whip that I had for many years.
The wind would whip through the coconut
palms along the beach and we learned to eat scrambled eggs
without biting down in order to avoid the grating of the
sand in teeth. Ummmm, good eggs.
There were a number of areas where
the land jutted out into the lake with shallow bays and
you could walk across the bays to explore them but you had
to shuffle your feet so that you did not step on the many
sting rays that lay covered with sand and invisible to the
eye. If you walked far enough along the beaches you would
reach the mouth of the lake where the water turned to salt
water and you could look out into the bay at the mouth of
the lake. It was beautiful.
At sunset I used to go out to jutting
points of land overhanging with palms and I would sit and
watch the splendid sunsets and then the lights of Maracaibo
starting to wink in the distance across the lake.
Now nights were a different matter,
we all crowded into the lean-to and attempted to sleep but
you could hear a crashing and shuffling in the underbrush
which kept us awake. So we decided to find out what was
making the racket and taking the Coleman lantern in hand
and arming ourselves with machetes and poles we had cut
for hiking around we started looking for the source and
what we finally located were land crabs. Huge ugly things
with one massive claw. The hunt was on!! We were able to
catch a number of them and we tied them to a palm tree and
went back to get some sleep but the mosquitoes kept us up
most of the night. In the morning we determined that the
crabs were edible and we found a sizeable bucket and filled
it with fresh water and boiled the crabs and had a fine
feast. After that land crabs in the immediate area became
I recall walking out into the lake
until about waist deep at night with the Colman lantern
held high and waiting for the fish to swarm around me and
I used to flay away at them with my machete. Never got one
as I recall but darn near sliced my legs as the blade would
twist when it entered the water.
I remember that Mr. Rincon, the husband
of our former Spanish instructor at the staff school had
set up a small campsite in a little trailer down near the
beach where he was camping and he invited us over and offered
us fresh oysters that he picked from the rocks at the entrance
to the lake and he invited us to go out with him which we
did and you could lean over the side of his skiff and pull
large oysters from the stones. We filled a bucket and took
them back to his camp and had fresh oysters on the half-shell
with fresh lime juice, catsup and Tabasco sauce with a cold
The Sunday we were to return, Dan
Allen's father arrived on the scene towing a ski boat that
he had borrowed from someone. He put it in the water and
began to tow Dan Allen and his brother, Sherman, and eventually
invited the rest of us to ski. I had never water skied before
and I could not get the hang of getting up on the skis.
Each time, I incurred a fresh-water enema and finally stood
up but Dan's father's boat was very powerful and he would
open the throttle and I would skip across the water with
my legs spread and Dan's father gave me the nickname of
"Flecha" which was the name of the high-speed
passenger catamarans that now operated from Cabimas to Maracaibo.
If you fell off the skis when the boat was at peak speed
you actually bounced along the waves before you went under.
For you who knew him, Dan Sweeney's father was the greatest
guy. He loved kids and I think he had a bit of kid in him.
My father and mother were longtime friends of the Sweeneys.
That week has remained burned into
my memory ever since. I have clear pictures of the beach
compound, my friends and their parents there and the things
we did -- that contributed to another great summer in Venezuela.
We returned to the beach several
times that summer to swim and while away lazy summer days
with our friends.